Florida law allows taxpayers to request an informal conference with their county property appraiser to discuss the assessed value of their property. At first blush, it would seem that resolving a dispute informally, without the time, expense and stress of a VAB hearing or court proceeding would be a no-brainer. Yet, in my experience, there are a number of reasons why taxpayers choose to go straight to VAB without meeting with the Property Appraiser first.
One common reason is the short time available for filing a VAB petition. Often, by the time a taxpayer receives their TRIM notice, digests it and does a little research about their assessment, the deadline to file a petition is right around the corner. So they file a petition and then think that the decision is up to the VAB. What many people don’t realize is that, even after you file a VAB petition and, for that matter, even up to the VAB hearing itself, you can still communicate directly with the Property Appraiser’s office in an effort to reach an agreement.
Another reason for failing to communicate with the Property Appraiser is the belief that the Property Appaiser’s office is not interested in resolving disputes. That is generally not the case. The staff in most Property Appraisers’ offices are not eager for a showdown at VAB. While they are naturally going to want to defend their work, if you have a credible argument, they would much rather discuss your assessment now rather than later before the Special Magistrate.
A third reason is the taxpayer’s fear of “showing their hand.” Many tax professionals caution their clients against meeting with the property appraiser because they are concerned that the property appraiser’s office will take advantage of the opportunity to discover the taxpayer’s case so they can be better prepared to defend their assessment at the VAB hearing. While that is always a risk, by taking some steps, the taxpayer can improve their chances of having a productive meeting with the Property Appraiser’s office. Here are some do’s and don’ts for meeting with the Property Appraiser’s staff:
Do . . .
- Request a copy of your property record card and any sales comparison or other worksheets that the Property Appraiser has prepared. Preferably, you would want to review these documents prior to the meeting, so that you can be prepared to discuss them and ask questions.
- Make sure that you still file a VAB petition, if the deadline for filing is prior to your informal conference. If you reach an agreement, you can always withdraw your petition.
- Be courteous and respectful to the staff. Remember, they are just doing their jobs; they don’t get a bonus if the county collects more taxes. And it can’t hurt to establish a positive rapport in the event you have issues in future years.
Don’t . . .
- Spend your money on an appraisal from someone that the local Property Appraiser’s office views as a “hack” or a “hired gun.” The Property Appraiser’s staff know which appraisers have integrity, and which do not. And for that matter, so do the Special Magistrates and the judges. As much as it may be tempting to hire the person who will give you the lowest value, just remember that credibility is everything.
- Rely solely on assessments of other properties. The Property Appraiser’s office wants to see sales that support your claim, not hear “my neighbor’s assessment is lower.”
- Argue for a reduction based on your good qualities as a human being. Property taxes aren’t based on personal merit, so your community service, charitable activities, military service, and strong work ethic aren’t going to get you anywhere. Focus on the real issue – the value of your property.
- Talk in terms of the amount of taxes you think you should be paying. Remember, the property appraiser is only concerned with the value of your property, not the amount of taxes that you ultimately pay. They are not going to be prepared to negotiate the amount of taxes that are due – only the assessed value.
Above all, remember that you are dealing with a government office that does not have a vested interest in producing a high tax roll. The Property Appraiser sets the value; the County Commission, School Board and other taxing authorities set the millage rate that determines the amount of taxes you owe. The Property Appraiser’s office is interested in determining the value of your property under the constraints of Florida law and the limited information that comes before them. Provide them with quality information and conduct yourself with a professional attitude, and you are much more likely to be successful.